Henrietta

I remember very little from the years between 1973 and 1980. There’s a simple reason for this, but one that omits a large part of the story. In the years between my birth and our unintentional immigration to the East Coast, I was busy learning how to eat, how to walk, how to use the bathroom, how to dress myself, and how to talk. I was learning about the world that surrounded me, and about my place in it. I was learning what kind of a person I was, and what kind of people had brought me into this world.

In the first decade of the 20th century — a decade variously referred to as the ’00s, the naughts, the oughts, the aughties, and the naughties — the big buzzword in psychological circles was resilience. Resilience was the word used over and over again in the days following the Boston Marathon Bombing of 2013. It’s a word that contains within it a kind of boundless optimism often lacking in the discussion of trauma, PTSD, and recovery from same.

“Resilience” is a word my own mother pulled out during a rather uncomfortable conversation in the drawing room of my partner’s parents’ house one Christmas Eve. I’d asked my mother to tell the story of the chickens who lived in a pen behind our house in Sunnyvale, California — the non-fictitious town of my birth and early childhood. I was fascinated with these chickens, as I was with all animals. I could pet the rabbits in their hutch on the other side of the back yard, and their fur was the softest thing I’d ever felt. I was sure that the feathers of our bad-tempered chicken Henrietta would also prove soft and pettable, and with the boundless optimism of toddlerhood I was sure I could win her over just as I did all the grown-up humans I’d encountered.

Henrietta had other ideas.

As soon as I opened the door of her pen, she began running after me, making evil chicken noises I’d never heard before, her wings akimbo and her sharp little beak ready to peck at my fat little toddler legs. We began a breathless circuit of the back yard. I screamed as loud as I could for my mom, keeping one or two chicken-steps ahead of Henrietta and her wicked beak.

This is where the actual events of the day have probably become blurred by countless retellings, and also by the dominant narrative of my childhood. As Mom tells the story, she stood at the kitchen window and laughed and laughed at the sight of a three-year-old girl being chased by a chicken. My own memory of the event from this point forward is a blurred mix of terror and bewilderment. Where was my mother? I could hear her laughing, but she wasn’t there to protect me. In the mind of a toddler, being pecked by a chicken looms as large and horrific as being mauled by a grizzly. It is perhaps the first time I felt alone and abandoned in the face of terror.

Tiny Gratitudes

  • Sunflowers painted on the ceiling of an ultrasound exam room
  • Getting to an appointment 10 minutes early so I can sit in the car and stop rushing
  • Living in a place where the trees are taller than the buildings
  • Mentholated cough drops: bits of eucalyptus trees born thousands of miles away, soothing my throat and my lungs
  • A tiny white pill that keeps me from breaking into tears every 15 minutes
  • Miracle cures that ease cold symptoms, even if they do need to be taken again and again again
  • The rain washing down the windshield of the car, softening edges and smearing lights
  • The Fort Point Post Office, open 24/7/365, even at 7pm on the Sunday before Christmas
  • Working in an industry where skills matter as much as connections

Gratitude Day 15: Moment in the Sun

This morning on my daily walk, the woods were bare, barren, still in disarray after Sandy. Branches and whole trees strewn across the trails, the trails themselves obscured under a carpet of rust-colored oak and beech leaves. I’m fortunate enough to live next to not one but two different pieces of conservation land. On the opposite end of our townhouse complex, past a grove of eastern hemlock, is a circuit through a wetlands, boardwalk in spots, bare earth, rock, and mud in others. Closer to our house are the woods. Maintained by a different municipality, they’re the local stomping grounds of all the discontented youth in the area. We regularly come across the vestiges of bonfires and parties: carcasses of beer cases, crushed and empty cans, glass sparkling among the mica on the granite outcroppings. Once, an entire couch, or rather what remained after most of it was consumed by flame.

This morning, the woods were fully Novembered, bare branches and trunks rising over that russet-brown carpet, and the sky above marshallowed with clouds. The cold nipped along the edges of my fleece and I was glad I’d thought to bring gloves. Underneath though, legs swinging through the empty crunch of the bare woods, I felt myself opening, enlivening, made vital in the way that only the cold air can make one vital. Sweat ran down my stomach, cooled when I stopped to stretch against a boulder at the top of the hill, drove me on to greater exertion to bring my body temperature up again.

On the way back, I picked around the edges of a red oak, its entire crown fallen over a pathway as wide as a street. Someone had already visited the swamp’s pathway, taken a chainsaw to the trunks that had fallen. Who will come to tidy these woods, one small island of wildness in the city of Boston?

Later today, I drove from an off-site meeting to my office under skies still glowering and chill, skies that seemed to promise snow. Instead, at 11:00am, just as I pulled up to parking spot, the sun came slanting through my sun roof. I opened it, and basked for a moment in the November sun.

30 Days of Thanks Starts on Day Nine

Forget April. November is the cruelest month for me, mashing rust-colored leaves in the raw days of no-sun clouds. A good month for a long slog, and long slogs are always easier in the company of others.

This year, I’ll be slogging on the gratitude train, with 30 days of thanks. Which starts on Day Nine for me, apparently, since this is the first I’ve heard of it. I’ll spare you the story of what I was doing for the first eight days of the month.

Gratitude opens new holes in the swiss-cheese brain of possibility. So here’s some gratitude for today:

  1. Star moss peeking out from beneath snow-patches, over rust-colored leaves
  2. The prodigal sun returns from in absentia
  3. Tom Robbins’s books led me enchanted through jungles of wordplay when I was 15 years old
  4. How extra glad I am to be the protagonist in my own novel, and not one written by Tom Robbins
  5. My thumbs work
  6. It is Friday.

30 Days of Thanks

The God-Shaped Hole, the Still Water

the god-shaped hole
must remain empty
so that god can pass through

it widens like the ozone
the world ends
and begins again

the guard opens the gate
and you make your way
to the pond with its
face of glass stillness

once before you came and sat
until the birds darted
over the gulf between bushes
and a red-winged
blackbird winked at you

now the water itself gulps
and returns to stillness
in the empty space of the evening